Today I return to the medina for the fifth day in a row. It’s nearly impossible for me to get bored with the hustle and bustle. As I lead my friends to the shop where I had bought a shirt we all like, I stop by a cart where I had also previously bought shawls. I look around for a minute for the owner before I spy him crowded around a tajine with three friends eating lunch. He enthusiastically motions for me to come over and sit and tells me to eat with him. Declining only results in even more vehement requests, but I explain that I have just eaten and thank him profusely. I buy three more shawls and we continue on our way to the shirt merchant. I take my time to meander along the narrow streets, weaving back and forth between other shoppers, turning my waist one way and scrunching my elbows in another to avoid bumping purses off shoulders and shoes off mannequins. I’ve learned that the more you try to hurry through the medina, the more you’ll bump into people and merchandise and simply wind up frustrated.
As we amble deeper into the medina, artificial light replaces the natural as shops shift closer together and walls grow taller. Merchants fight mini skirmishes with their voices, each trying to outdo the other with both their deafening volume and their lower prices. The sharp smell of olives hits me like a punch in the face long before we approach the stands of green and black pyramids. Fortunately, it quickly gives way to the savory smell of freshly baked bread being sold in a cart almost hidden from sight by the crowd. Next to the cart is an endless row of tarps with shoes, wallets, and belts lined into neat regiments and Adidas hoodies folded carefully over their matching pants. Baskets filled to the brim with bright pastel socks and fluffy sweats occupy the nooks and crannies in between shops. We pass by several glass display cases with women murmuring to their friends and peering in to admire the sparking gold and silver contents, and then by a butcher shop, whose counter is lined with bleached white sheep skulls and its walls with pink, fleshy lungs. The next shop displays the latest in fashionable styles of jeans and sweaters, and next door the jerseys of famous soccer players hang proudly on the walls.
Suddenly, the call to prayer blasts from the loudspeakers on the minaret towering above, and men hurry through the medina with their prayer mats in the crook of their arm. A turn before the mosque leads us past a tiny courtyard, full of lush green foliage. We’ve dubbed it the “cat sanctuary” as there always seems to be at least a dozen cats of all shapes and sizes prowling around. After continuing down the road, the familiar sizzling of a deep fryer and unmistakable smell of sardines compel me to detour again. Hungry shoppers crowd around the cart, snatching up sandwiches of fried potato, fish, pepper, eggplant, diced tomato and onion, and cayenne. Munching on our eight dirham sandwiches (about one dollar), we again resume our journey, past the mouth-watering aromas of the bakeries with their sugary goods prominently on display in the windows. I walk resolutely past them, reminding myself that I don’t need a pastry today-or at least not now; besides, my favorite bakery is near the medina entrance. After passing a shop full of shiny silver teapots and a spice shop neatly lined with sacks spilling out earth tones and pungent fragrances, we finally arrive at our destination. Vibrant purple, blue, and red kaftan(s) for women occupy one side while royal gold and pristine white jellebah(s) for men fill the other.
Just outside is the small rack of shirts we’ve been looking for: a variety of plain t-shirts with traditional designs stitched around the collar. My friend points to one and asks “how much?” in Arabic and the owner responds in French, “100 dirhams.” (You tend to stick out if you have fair skin, and if you have fair skin, you’re most likely from France, so, you will most often be addressed first in French). After my friend gives a mock gasp, a “very expensive!” and a suggestion of only 50 dirham, both in Arabic, the owner gives a startled look. “Do you speak Arabic?” he asks. “A little,” my friend replies. “I study here, in Rabat.” “Ah, good!” the owner says delightedly, and after a conversation in Arabic and an invitation to tea, the negotiations resume. He suggests 80 dirhams; my friend responds with a “60 dirhams” and a pleading “I’m only a student!” This old tactic, coupled with the classic Moroccan warmth and appreciation of our attempts to speak Arabic, conclude with a price of 70 dirhams. He cheerfully bags up the shirt and we exchange farewells. Mission accomplished, we begin our walk home (passing by my favorite pastry shop where I give into temptation).